A little competition is good for business — and business school students. That was the case when groups of students from the Bryan School of Business and Economics tackled some tough business challenges for ALDI U.S. this spring in a unique business case competition.
Not only did the students have the opportunity to address real-world marketing, management, and supply chain business challenges and work with C-suite business leaders, but a value leader in U.S. grocery stores received unique perspectives from an important demographic.
“We were thrilled to have ALDI select us for this project,” explains Bramley Crisco, employer and corporate relations specialist at the Bryan School. “With more than 200 students in multiple academic programs involved, this large-scale hands-on learning opportunity was a first for us.”
SOLVING REAL-WORLD CHALLENGES
The competition took ALDI and the Bryan School more than a year to plan.
“We hadn’t worked with the Bryan School before, but we thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce our brand to these students, help them understand what we are about, and show what opportunities we have as an employer,” says Amanda Dennis, director of operations at ALDI U.S. “We wanted to see how they could bring to life some business case ideas we had in mind.”
Those business cases included solving challenges around branding, consumer and market analytics, digital tools, e-commerce, value chain, governance, and sustainability.
“Some of these students are in capstone courses, so this opportunity helped them apply their experiences gained from prior coursework and internships to solve real problems that demand real solutions,” says Dr. Larry Taube, associate professor in the Department of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management.
Experiential learning opportunities are central to the development of problem-solving skills and a key focus of the Bryan School.
“Working closely with a global retail organization like ALDI to solve challenges is an amazing growth opportunity for our students,” Crisco says.
PIVOTING DURING THE PANDEMIC
Both online students and on-campus students were part of the project, and their respective faculty provided guidance and support.
“Our role as faculty was a supportive one,” says Dr. Jiyoung Hwang, associate professor in the Department of Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Hospitality, and Tourism. “We provided research workshops, challenged students with critical questions on their drafts, and answered questions about the feasibility of proposed solutions.”
That support proved pivotal when the semester was just underway and COVID-19 quarantine measures forced faculty, students, and ALDI leadership all to work remotely.
“That was a big challenge but a good learning experience,” Hwang says. “Everyone prefers face-to-face communication, but that is just not how business is done anymore. Being forced to work together remotely was a great learning experience in itself.”
AN UNPRECEDENTED LEARNING OPPORTUNITY
Faculty reviewed all the student teams’ business cases and selected six for presentation to ALDI leadership. Those student teams presented PowerPoint or video presentations remotely to ALDI in early April. Then, by the end of the month, ALDI provided live feedback via teleconference.
“The executive teams not only appreciate all the work evident in these presentations, but we are amazed that each student team was able to rally and put together engaging business case presentations under the extraordinary circumstances that resulted due to the pandemic,” Dennis says.
Proposals for a shopping app to engage Gen Z shoppers, opportunities in e-commerce, development of a store donation coordinator, and value chain opportunities all received high praise from the ALDI executive teams.
“These were engaging presentations with interesting insight, competitive examples, and clear value propositions,” Dennis says. “It was a pleasure reviewing each of these presentations and the students’ thoughts about our brand and our needs.”
The winning proposal involved analysis of technology and e-commerce in grocery retail and netted the student team a $2,000 grand prize.
“This presentation effectively tied into our focus on ‘shop differently,’ which was captivating,” Dennis says. “The students addressed all aspects of the case outline and laid out a concept plan that was clear and easy to follow.”
“We were very excited to win!” says Jenna Shy ʼ20 (Marketing). “It was great knowing that our hard work and late-night meetings had paid off.”
The team proposed Swiftli, a triple recommendation to incorporate into the ALDI shopping experience: a dual-lane self-checkout, a smart cart, and an in-store purchasing feature on the ALDI app.
“Our Swiftli proposal is flexible, so ALDI may choose to launch just one, two, or all three of the ideas,” explains Niddavanh Miyo ʼ20 (Finance, Economics).
Without exception, the Bryan School believes ALDI delivered an unprecedented opportunity to all the students who participated.
“ALDI’s transparency throughout the process meant that our students saw firsthand how a global essential business organization focused on flexibility, innovation, and hard work to continue business operations amid a pandemic,” Crisco says. “The ALDI team went above and beyond to share their global business environment with our students and provided an exceptional learning opportunity.”